Five, and six more movies

Billion Dollar Brain (1967)

In the 1960s, Michael Caine starred as superstud detective Harry Palmer in several movies based on novels by Len Deighton. I've somehow managed to neither read any of the books nor see any of the movies, until this one, which landed in my watchlist because it was directed by the master of movie surrealism, Ken Russell.

There's next to nothing of Russell's magic here. I guess he made it for the money. That said, Billion Dollar Brain is smart, 1960s stylish, and beautifully filmed on location all across Europe. Without knowing who's hired him, Caine is acting as courier for a red Thermos that can't be opened, taking it from London to Helsinki, and he's been told that whatever's inside is alive.

The movie is high-tech for its time, which is ancient technology now, but if you can get past that, and past Karl Malden in the nude, this is quite a good genre movie. There's complex plotting, doublecrosses, surprises, and when characters talk in the winter scenes, you can see their breath. Caine is great, and despite its dumbshit title this movie is better than most James Bond entries.

The Neverending
Film Festival

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Can't Stop the Music (1980)

Nancy Harper, the actress who played Rhoda's mom on Rhoda, directed this bizarre biopic of Village People, starring Steve Guttenberg on roller skates and crystal meth, with lots of Brady Bunch-level acting and jokes. If the movie's story is to be believed, the band members were strangers until they were invited (in costume) to Valerie Perrine's dinner party, crashed by "uptight square" Bruce Jenner.

Also, hmmm, I always thought Village People was a gay band, but despite their famous costumes and the lyrics of the songs, they're all in the closet here.

"This is the '80s, darling. You're going to see a lot of things you've never seen before."

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Five (1951)

After the nuclear holocaust, a woman walks alone, wondering if she's the last survivor. She finds a man, and they tell each other how they lucked into living even after the bombs. A few others find them, and each is intelligent, civilized, the way you and I imagine ourselves to be. If only a handful of humans are left, you could do worse than this bunch.

"We are a group of living miracles."

When another survivor washes ashore on the beach, you know something's wrong with him. Not radiation sickness, but ego sickness — he begins his backstory by saying he climbed Mt Everest alone, so he'll be trouble. (I'll prattle about that after the review part of the review.)

Five begins and ends with Bible quotes, but they're pertinent, not preachy, and in between there's no mention of God, so those of us who don't believe in fairy tales won't be annoyed, and the story isn't another. It's crisply, sometimes noirishly filmed in black-and-white, the characters seem flesh-and-blood, and even when they disagree or the situation is bleak (there's been a nuclear war, remember) everyone's motivation seems plausible. Nobody is difficult just to be difficult and manufacture drama, a bad-movie trope that I hate.

It surprising that I'd never heard of Five, and flabbergasting that it was made in 19-frickin'-51. There's almost nothing about it that's dated in any way. It could've been made in 2022, except it wouldn't be nearly as good, because it would star Liam Hemsworth and be cluttered with product placement and inappropriate rock'n'roll and end with a kiss.

Verdict: BIG YES, and it's a movie that triggered all sorts of thoughts in my head. If I wasn't a hermit and I'd seen it with someone, we would've had long conversations about Five.

Like, despite his French accent, the movie's troublemaker reminds me of present-day Republicans and millionaires who think they've accomplished everything all by themselves. In reality, nobody except perhaps an artist accomplishes squat alone. Certainly nobody climbs Mt Everest without a lot of help. Even if you've climbed the world's highest mountain without a sherpa, to say you've done it alone you'd have to have hand-carved your boots and sewn your own winterwear and filled your own tanks with oxygen. Nobody Everests alone.

And in a tiny society like the one established by these few people, a newcomer bent on doing it his way instead of yielding to consensus can't be welcomed. It would've been appropriate, I think, to banish the idiot Frenchman, or kill him if he wouldn't leave. Of course, it's the downfall of civilization, either way. If he's banished or killed, it's the start of a society that rejects dissent; if he's not banished or killed, he'll soon make himself mayor or chief of police, and piss on everything that makes a society worth being part of.

Anyway, hell of a movie, Five.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

An enormous cruise ship crossing the Atlantic hits rough weather and gets toppled, leaving it upside-down in the ocean, so its downside is up. To stay alive, the few survivors inside will have to make their way to the bottom of the ship, which is high above them. 

I remembered this as a bloated and silly disaster movie, and thought a rewatch on its 50th anniversary might be a laugh. My memory lied to me, though. This is not a comically bad movie. It's actually an effective race against time and stupidity.

The whole thing takes place on great-looking upside-down cruise ship sets. Gene Hackman (amazingly) plays a priest, and Ernest Borgnine plays the loudmouth lout he always played in the last 30 years of his life.

Gotta say wow, The Poseidon Adventure is sexist by present-day standards. With only one memorable exception (thank you, Shelly Winters) none of the women do anything except scream and get rescued by the men. Even a 10-year-old boy gets to be helpful, but the ladies? Nah. Three out of the movie's four prominent women rip their formal gowns off because "they'd get in the way," so this movie has legs, and that's no boating accident.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Shivers (1975)

Come visit lovely Montreal, where big slimy free-range blood blisters are coming out of the plumbing and walls. One of them jumps out of a guy's belly and onto another guy's face. One crawls up a woman's coochie while she's in the bathtub.

Shivers was written and directed by David Cronenberg, so of course it's gruesome. Gruesome is what Cronenberg does. Some of his movies are worth it, but this one isn't.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Trial (1962)

Tony Perkins stars as a man awakened in his apartment one morning by unidentified officials, and charged with an unspecified crime. It's a film by Orson Welles, based on Franz Kafka's book.

I've never read Kafka, so can't comment on how well Welles adapted the source material, but the end result feels very Kafkaesque. The script builds its outrageousness bit by bit, scene by scene, and the visuals grab your eyes and attention — the endless office, the long haul of a foot locker across a bleak landscape, and the overcrowded courtroom.

Perkins is familiar from the overrated Psycho and its sequels, but here he's earnest and vulnerable. You feel his increasing frustration at the bureaucracy, and his fury when he defends himself in an impossible courtroom.

"Why am I always in the wrong without even knowing what for or what it's all about?"

My biggest complaint about the movie is that at the beginning, the title card is on-screen for 22 seconds — just the words, "The Trial," for 22 damn seconds. That's lots longer than necessary to read two words, and for that someone should be brought up on unspecified charges.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The White Buffalo (1977)

Charles Bronson plays Wild Bill Hickock, chasing dreams of gold but battling nightmares of a white buffalo charging at him. Young Bronson could act, but this is old Bronson, and old Bronson mostly let his sneer do the acting.

The story built around Bronson is borderline interesting: everyone's out to get him, of course, but the mystic/mythic white buffalo is his real nemesis, in dreams and in the movie's reality.

It's also the movie's big problem — the white buffalo looks preposterously fake, like plywood with white carpeting stapled on. And it's not briefly glimpsed like the monster in a Roger Corman movie — no, we're shown this laughable white buffalo repeatedly. It looks like something from South Park.

Will Sampson (from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) plays Crazy Horse, and he's pretty good. Kim Novak plays Poker Jenny, which is miles removed from Vertigo. Slim Pickens is in there, driving a stagecoach. There's a semi-cool rockslide at the beginning of the movie.

If they'd simply taken a real buffalo and painted it white, or used special effects, or just talked about a white buffalo without showing it at all, this might've been an average western — possibly even kinda good. But Bronson is wooden already; give him a plywood co-star and the whole movie becomes kindling.

Verdict: NO.

— — —

Find a movie
DVDpublic librarystreaming

If you can't find a movie, or if you have any
recommendations, please drop me a note.

Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. >Perkins is familiar from the overrated Psycho and its sequels

    Sir, I will not let this stand. The original Psycho is perhaps Hitchcock's masterpiece. It's in the same category, to me, as Shadow Of A Doubt, Rear Window, or Spellbound. I know that we are dealing with opinions here - I consider North By Northwest and Vertigo both very good at best, but everyone else seems to think they are AMAZING.

    Here is a 90-minute documentary - it was on the DVD as an extra feature - about the making of the film. It's extremely interesting.


    1. You're McSerious? Well, I'll download and take a look at that video, but...

      I've seen Psycho only once, found it moderately scary/creepy, but not particularly memorable. With the proliferation of slasher crap that followed it, my estimation of Psycho has steadily declined, but that's probably not fair.

      Maybe I ought to give it a second viewing.


The site's software sometimes swallows comments. For less frustration, send an email and I'll post it as a comment.